Monday was the day Alberta could possibly move into the next step of the COVID-19 reopening plan, but the health minister announced no restrictions would be adjusted.
“There will be no easing of any restrictions at this time,” Health Minister Tyler Shandro said.
“This is the safe move. It’s the smart move to make for our province right now and it’s absolutely necessary to help avoid a third wave that would take more lives and once again put more strain on the hospital system.”
In order to move into Step 3, Alberta had to be at fewer than 300 people hospitalized due to COVID-19 and that number had to be dropping.
“Today, while hospitalizations are below 300, they’ve risen in recent days,” Shandro said.
There were 280 people in hospital as of Monday’s update. That’s up 16 from a week ago. Based on transmission rates in the province, Shandro said Alberta is on track to have more than 300 people hospitalized due to COVID-19 within a week.
“This pause is prudent, and it’s essential.”
Alberta’s chief medical officer of health said she understands people are frustrated and tired of the restrictions, but pointed to how quickly hospitalization numbers grew in the winter.
The number of people in hospital due to COVID-19 grew every two weeks starting in November, Dr. Deena Hinshaw said. On Nov. 12, there were 270 people in hospital. Just six weeks later, there were 927 people in hospital.
“The reality is, once we hit a growth phase of this virus, the numbers will not stand still.”
Step 3 includes relaxed rules on worship services and indoor gatherings, reopening of entertainment venues, including museums and casinos, and adult team sports allowed to play again.
There is no specific date when the government will look at lifting restrictions, Shandro said. Instead, things like hospitalizations and daily case numbers will be closely monitored in the coming weeks.
“Right now, knowing that we had seven days of increases in our hospitalizations, we do see a setback with increases to our daily cases, the prudent and safe thing to do is to continue to hold off proceeding with Step 3, continuing to monitor the situation and move forward to Step 3 when it is prudent and safe to do so.”
The announcement came as Alberta recorded an additional 456 new cases of COVID-19. Of those, 110 cases were variants of concern, Hinshaw said.
Right now, variants make up 16 per cent of all active COVID-19 cases in the province. There were 6,176 active cases on Monday.
The province completed about 7,500 tests in the last 24 hours, putting the positivity rate at 6.1 per cent.
Of the 280 people in hospital with COVID-19, 48 of those are receiving care in the ICU.
Hinshaw also confirmed an additional five deaths due to COVID-19 had been reported in the past 24 hours.
Two of the deaths were reported in the Edmonton zone and both were linked to outbreaks.
A man in his 80s linked to the Churchill Manor outbreak and a woman in her 80s linked to the Grey Nuns Hospital – in-patient outbreak have died.
A man in his 80s in the Calgary zone, a man in his 70s in the North zone and a man in his 60s in the South zone have also died.
All five cases included comorbidities, Alberta Health said.
“My thoughts are with anyone mourning the loss of someone they love from COVID-19 or from any other cause,” Hinshaw said.
As of Monday’s update, there were active alerts or outbreaks in 339 schools – or about 14 per cent of Alberta schools – with a combined total of 1,474 cases since in-school learning resumed on Jan. 11.
Alberta has administered 487,493 doses of COVID-19 vaccine and 93,414 Albertans are fully vaccinated.
To date, 134,246 Albertans have recovered from COVID-19.